Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Apple Signs Deal to Make Energy from Methane Gas

We all know Apple as a maker of computers, smartphones, tablets and wearables. Now it appears that the California company is getting into the renewable energy business thanks to a deal signed with a US landfill to utilise methane gas. This could be a precursor to other similar projects around the country…

According to various news sources, Apple has reached an agreement with Catawba County in North Carolina, one of the southern states along the US East Coast. Catawba County will lease 3.7 acres to Apple for 16 years. At the conclusion of the lease, Apple will have an opportunity to vacate the premises or sign for an additional five years.

Apple has not detailed what it plans to do with the renewable energy that it creates at the Blackburn Resource Recovery Facility. It could be used to generate green electricity or be sold as-is to customers who need gas fuel.

How It Works

Landfills in the US typically deal with the methane produced via waste decomposition by simply venting it into the air. But a growing number of operators are now installing energy plants to trap the methane gas, process it and then use it for other purposes. This is exactly what Apple will be doing.

Catawba County plans to harness 40% of the methane produced by the landfill and sell it to Quadrogen Power Systems for treatment and processing. They will then pass the processed gas along to Apple. The remaining 60% of the methane will be used by the county to supply some of its energy requirements.

Speculation abounds that Apple will use the methane gas to produce electricity for a data centre it also operates in the county. But that remains to be seen. Such a use would make complete sense given Apple's commitment to eventually powering as many of its facilities as possible using renewable sources, but how much benefit the company will realistically get from the methane harvested from the county landfill may not do much in the grand scheme of things. It may be too little in the end.

Another Piece of the Puzzle

Irrespective of how much power Apple actually generates from the new deal, it is less important than the fact that its plans are yet another piece of the puzzle. As the world's data centre needs expand, the amount of energy consumed by bigger and more robust facilities will only increase. We have to find ways to power the data centres of the future without relying on fossil fuels. That may mean a combination of renewable sources that include sun, wind, water and biomass.

Harnessing methane is a particularly exciting prospect because we are already producing the gas anyway. Just by burying our rubbish and letting it decompose, we are creating a gas that can be harnessed for multiple purposes. Indeed, methane is one of the greenest biomass energy sources available to us. Apple's decision just helps it take one step closer to eventually using only renewables.

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